Setting the story straight

Atmore shrinking? Falling on hard times? Hardly.

It all began with an al.com news article posted on June 12, 2020 and printed in the Mobile Press-Register. The article listed the 10 fastest-shrinking cities in Alabama – or at least the 10 which seemed to be shrinking.
The author of the article noted “Nearly 60 percent of all Alabama cities and towns lost population between 2010 and 2019, according to new Census estimates, but some are shrinking faster than others.”
First on the list was Selma, then Eufaula – then Atmore.
According to the article, Atmore’s 2010 population was 10,194. The 2019 population was 9,107. It appeared Atmore lost 1,087 residents, meaning a negative 11 percent change.
Mayor Jim Staff responded to the article and explained that when Atmore annexed the land where the prisons are, the inmate population was included in Atmore’s numbers. However, Atmore de-annexed the property housing inmates which corrected the number of Atmore residents.
A letter in St. Clair Times
A letter to the editor printed in St. Clair Times, Pell City, Ala., June 17, took the shrinking city a step farther, actually implicating the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Atmore’s plight.
Following is the letter in its entirety:
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Some questions about Poarch Band of Creek Indians, town of Atmore
A recent report shows Atmore, Ala., is No. 3 on a list of the 10 most shrinking cities in the state.
I note that Atmore is the home of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and home of their gambling operations.
It seems a wise move for our state legislators and the governor’s gambling committee studying the issue to take a long look at how the Poarch Creek Indians have contributed to the welfare of their hometown.
A drive down main street Atmore makes you wonder!
Sadly, the town seems to have fallen on hard times and is no longer the thriving town I fondly remember in the days gone by. I don’t mean to judge Atmore for their less than impressive progress, the whole story is not known.
My question is, if the Poarch Creek Indians profess to offer so much help to the state, what have they done for their hometown?
Should Alabama enter into an agreement with the Indians offering great amounts of money to the state … and have they been an exceptional neighbor in the city where they rose from poverty to their present state of money and power?
State legislators … what do you know in order to make an honest vote, if it comes to a vote?
Don Stephens

The fact that Mr. Stephens raised the question at all about Poarch’s contributions indicates he knows absolutely nothing about the relationship between the Tribe and the city or between the Tribe and the state. Of course, Mr. Stephens submitted a letter. It’s an opinion piece and he has the right to express his opinion and raise questions. But he could have answered his own questions with a little research or a phone call.
As for his statement about a drive down Main Street, perhaps he saw the work in progress that is the Strand Theater and the old hardware store. We’ve all become accustomed to how those buildings look, knowing that better days are coming and they will be show places. However, a passerby wouldn’t know that.
Mayor Staff’s response
Mr. Stephens’ letter was too much for Mayor Staff to let go by without response.
Following is a letter dated June 25 from the mayor:
Dear Mr. Stephens,
We have all read your recent “Letter to the Editor” in which you describe Atmore as “fallen on hard times.” While we are glad that you chose to drive through our town recently, we do take issue with the assessment you have made. We do not prefer our town to be judged by reporting information that is not fully researched, and we were happy to read your later admission that “the whole story is not known.”
Those of us who have deep roots in Atmore, both personally and professionally, are more than happy to tell its whole story. It is one of perseverance, faith, and hard work. With such determination, this community will continue to grow and prosper.
Atmore is not a “shrinking city.” Atmore had annexed all of the Alabama Department of Correction’s property prior to the 2010 census. In the 2010 census, the city’s population was comprised of its residents and those detained within the Department of Corrections facilities. Atmore’ s population was 10,194, which included about 2,100 inmates. In 2013, the city de-annexed the prison facilities that housed those inmates. What some may interpret as shrinking population is actually the result of de-annexing a populous from the city. The city’s estimated residential population in 2019 was 9,107. If one were to subtract 2,100 from the 2010 census and compare to the 2019 estimate, there is an increase of about 1,000 residents. That is an increase of 12.5%.
Atmore is going through a major revitalization driven by both individuals and institutions who want Atmore to not just survive, but thrive. As a testament to these efforts, Atmore was the only city in the state of Alabama that was selected for the Smart Growth America grant and was also recently selected as a Main Street Alabama Designated Community. Our local community group, “The Pride of Atmore,” has been diligent in fundraising and planning efforts that are completely reimagining the downtown area. Within the City are many historical buildings on the federal register. A Historic Preservation Commission has recently been established along with a downtown historic district. Areas of downtown are presently undergoing historical renovations.
Atmore is blessed to have the Poarch Band of Creek Indians as its neighbor and the Tribe has been a critically important partner in all of the redevelopment efforts. In addition, Poarch has donated $1 million to making sure our local hospital stays open and operating, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. Considering how many other hospitals in rural America have been forced to close, this contribution is literally life-saving. The Tribe has also worked with area schools to improve education for our future generations, including developing a STEM lab for our community’s middle school and a NAF Academy of Information Technology that will connect our high school students with high paying careers.
Atmore is going through changes that will make it an even better place to live, work, and visit. It is a small town that we hope will be an inspiration to other communities across rural America – a place where people will want to put down roots, raise their families, grow their businesses, and that visitors will want to return to again and again. We would be delighted to greet you when you come back, and we would also be happy for you to meet some of our Poarch neighbors. It is heartening that you have happy memories of Atmore, and we would like to invite you to create some new ones here.

With Atmore pride,
Jim Staff, Mayor
City of Atmore

Foster Kizer, Executive Director
Pride of Atmore

Dale Ash, Owner
Pepsi Cola Bottling of Atmore